New mental health initiative seeks to support players’ families

Ex-Leeds forward Brett Delaney’s partner Lotty Steel has launched a new mental health initiative to help support the families of all professional athletes.

Delaney, 35, was forced to retire in February 2019 following a facial injury sustained playing for Leeds in July 2018. After joining Feathersotne for the 2019 season, a reoccurrence of the injury in a friendly against Halifax required further surgery and ultimately proved the end of the Australian’s career.

He made more than 200 appearances for the Rhinos, arriving in 2010 having played 81 games in the NRL for Parramatta and Gold Coast, winning four Super League titles and two Challenge Cups.

Beyond the Sidelines has partnered with Leeds Rhinos, Rugby League Cares and Edge Hill University to undertake research and develop a new family support programme.

Delaney’s partner Lotty has founded BTS alongside Laura Hanson, partner of professional golfer Chris.

Lotty said: “Life as a partner of a pro-athlete can be a rollercoaster; being able to talk to others who had experienced similar situations alongside regular catch ups with Nigel at the Rhinos meant I was more emotionally equipped to deal with the challenges that retirement and a career ending injury brought for Brett and our home lives.

“We are passionate about transitioning this change in the sporting industry, so that more families of athletes across all sports have access to the support we’ve had and the benefits that a more holistic support system can bring to family lives.”

It was the personal experiences of Lotty and Laura ‘riding the rollercoaster of a sporting career and the impact it can have on home life’ and their time spent with Nigel O’Flaherty Johnston, who has been the Welfare Officer at Leeds for the past four years, that led to the creation of BTS.

The membership service will drive social support through its community and recognise the need for greater mental health and well-being support for the families of athletes, as well as recognise the benefits of doing so for the performance of professionals.

O’Flaherty Johnston, who is also Director of Swan Counselling, Mentoring and Coaching (CMC) said: “Over the past few years there has been a shift in focus to the mental health of the athlete being just as important as their physical health in ensuring optimum performance.

“I am supporting more and more partners and families in dealing with both the impact on the mental health of the athlete in challenging times, but equally their own, providing them with coping mechanisms and tools to deal with the impact of such instances as athlete injury or retirement.”

Beyond the Sidelines officially launched on Tuesday at an exclusive workshop for Leeds Rhinos partners and families. It will offer FREE membership to families of all professional sport athletes enabling them to access online workshops, resources, peer mentor support and family counselling services.

Kevin Sinfield, Director of Rugby, Leeds Rhinos said: “We are delighted at Leeds Rhinos to be supporting the ‘Beyond the Sidelines’ project.

“We have seen in recent years how important a holistic approach to player welfare is and how that benefits the player and the club as a whole.

“We are proud to think of our team as a family and ‘Beyond the Sidelines’ offers a way for us to support our players at home as well as in the work place.”

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